“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Embarrassed to be a conservative yet again

As regular readers will know, I don't only frequent the sites of those who accept the idea that mankind's emissions of greenhouse gasses are an imminent threat. I have discussed my sojurns to Climate DepotWatts Up With ThatJoanne Nova, etc. While I frequently find the posts themselves to be frustrating, the comments are often infuriating and the links to the blog sites hosted by the commenters can be downright frightening.

Such was the case when I looked at a comment on Anthony Watts' post entitled "Global air and sea temperatures starting to drop rapidly." One Alec Rawls has a site called Error Theory. Mr. Rawls says that he was in a Ph.D. program in Economics at Stanford but that his research led him to "moral theory and constitutional law" at which point he dropped the program and went out on his own. The Error Theory blog has as its summary, quoted in its entirety, "Moral science has two halves. There are the implications of thinking straight about fact and value (ideal theory) and there are the implications of not thinking straight. Ideal theory is the foundation, error theory the daily battle."

Reading his most recent post of October 28, I agreed with a fair amount of his material. It consists of some takedowns of camaign ads of the despicable, loathsome (I don't like her) Barbara Boxer. So far so good. But when I saw a picture of Alan Keyes and a description of him as a hero, alarm bells went off. It turns out that Rawls' passion is detailed at his web site entitled Crescent of Betrayal.

That site is dedicated to stopping the construction of the Flight 93 National Memorial by Architect Paul Murdoch. Readers will recall that United Airlines Flight 93 was the Boeing 757 that was brought down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania by passengers to prevent radical Islamic hijackers from using the airplane as a guided missile. So, what's the problem with the memorial? It's at the site of the crash and the actual location of the crash is surrounded by a broken circle. Rawls believes that this is an Islamic Crescent.

There's a tower with 40 wind chimes symbolizing those who died. The chimes hang in the concave portion of a semi-circular tower. If you stand on the ground and gaze up, Rawls believes you are looking at the Flight 93 victims hanging in hell below the Heavenly crescent at the top of the tower.

As is usually the case with conspiracy theorists, Rawls has a whole series of arcane facts and figures to back up his contention. For example, if you stand in the center of the open part of the circle and look toward the center of the enclosed area, it's the proper direction to face Mecca. And when the shadow of the tower touches the trees, forming part of the closure of the circle, it's time for afternoon prayers.

It's difficult to criticize this - Tom Burnett, Sr., father of Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett, Jr. is a part of the campaign to stop the Memorial. I'm sensitive to the feelings of the friends and families of those who lost their lives in Pennsylvania, in New York, and at the Pentagon. But this kind of fear and hatred mongering does no one any good. What evidence is there that Paul Murdoch secretly (or not so secretly) venerates the terrorists and wants to shame the victims?

As it turns out, the design has been controversial and its abandonment has been a cause celeb for such intellectual luminaries of the conservative movement as the above-mentioned Keyes and ex Colorado Representative, erstwhile Republican Presidential candidate, and current Colorado Gubernatorial candidate in the Constitution Party, Tom Tancredo. Yes, it's hard to hold my head high as a conservative these days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The art of disinformation

Marc Morano, over at the climate disinformation aggregator site Climate Depot, summarizes a sequence of email exchanges and episodes involving TV Weatherman Anthony Watts of the Watts Up With That (WUWT) climate change skeptic site and centered on an invitation Watts received to participate in a debate at California State University Chico (CSUC) as follows:
Anthony Watts 'disinvited' to debate: University claims it can't handle a slideshow
For his part, in his post about the episode, Watts characterizes it similarly:
 The season of disinvitation continues: Chico State University can’t handle a slideshow

So, from this I infer that CSUC invited Watts to make a presentation of some sort and that, upon hearing that Watts intended to utilize a powerpoint presentation, said that "I'm sorry, we don't have the facilities for that, we retract our invitation." The truth is that Watts was invited to be one of three representatives of the "pro" side of a debate about passing California's Proposition 23.

Prop 23 is intended to suspend the implementation of California Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), called the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This bill has a variety of provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state and is strongly opposed by various energy companies, natural resource extraction companies, and warming skeptics, etc. who have invested huge sums of money in support of Prop 23. The purpose of this post is not to delve into whether or not Prop 23 should be passed. Rather, it's about Watts' and Morano's characterization of the events surrounding Watts' invitation to this debate.

Upon receipt of the invitation, Watts asked if he could utilize a PowerPoint presentation. He gave a variety of reasons for his desire to do so, including his disadvantage in a debate involving statements and rebuttals due to a partial hearing loss, his position as a television personality and familiarity with the visual medium, and his desire to make the debate an educational experience for his audience.

The organizers turned him down on this, stating that the debate was to utilize the traditions of oral argument. Several emails were exchanged, but CSUC was adamant that visual aids weren't to be allowed. They were willing to provide accommodation for his hearing disability but not to change the debate format. The key email from Watts is:

From: “Anthony Watts”
Date: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 11:13 AM
To: “Wolf, Thia”
Cc: “Peterson, Sue” ; “John Rucker” ; “Justus, Zachary”
Subject: Re: Invitation to the Great Debate
Hello Ms. Wolf,

Thank you for your reply.

{Snip by King of the Road}

To deny visuals in a public debate is in my opinion, a sad commentary on  CSUC’s program. Even in a court of law the prosecution and the defense are allowed visuals. How else would they explain forensic science to a jury?  Get with the times!

Given the disadvantages I will face, and unless there is some sort of  accommodation for me to present at least some visuals, I see no other option  but to decline your invitation.

I await your reconsideration,

Best Regards, Anthony Watts

(Emphasis mine)

In other words, when CSUC wouldn't change the debate format to meet Watts' conditions, he declined. He made a bunch of noise about going into hostile conditions at a disadvantage in the snipped portion but the bottom line is that CSUC wouldn't meet his demands and so he declined. Both in the headline and later in the post, Watts disingenuously characterizes this chain of events as himself being disinvited.

Further, nowhere does CSUC say they can't handle slides. They make it quite clear that the format was determined in advance to be oral argument only and that they would not change because of Watts' demand.

This is the nature of the disinformation promulgated by the denizens of the seething so-called skeptical swamp. As to Watts' and Morano's specific complaint here, I offer the following:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to conduct a poll

Current Poll
» Will humans continue to be responsible with the resources of the Earth when the AGW Climate Change theory has been disproved?

 I will continue to be responsible with the resources of the Earth.
 It would make no difference to the Earths resources if we did not recycle household waste.
 I'm confused and only recycle to save the world from "Man Made Climate Change."

I am FAR from an expert on climate or on climate change, anthropogenic global warming, human caused climate disruption, etc. I read frequently about it at a dilettante level and have several climate related blogs in my blog roll. I read a fair amount of "skeptical" material as well as that of those who support the mainstream consensus of the scientific community at large that CO2 emissions are causing climate disruption and will continue to do so with increasingly negative consequences without dramatic societal changes.

In the former (skeptical) category I was reading a blog called Climate Realists  which seems to represent itself as both a clearinghouse of skeptical climate information as well as a venue for semi-scholarly discussion. I won't express an opinion on the level of scholarship, but in the sidebar, I found the so-called "poll" copied above. In terms of the concentration of hidden assumptions and logical fallacies, it seems to be nearly unique. In fact, it can only be intentionally so.

  • "Will humans continue to be responsible with the resources of the Earth..." This ludicrously implies that humans are doing so now.
  • "When AGW Climate Change Theory has been disproved." Really?
  • The first two selections are not mutually exclusive and, together, seem to imply that being responsible with the resources of the Earth consists of recycling 
  • The third selection makes at least two gratuitously insulting implications: that accepting the consensus position of mainstream science on the effects of CO2 emissions indicates confusion and that people who take this position believe that recycling will "save the world."
Now I'm sure that the owner of the blog is aware of these things and I imagine he or she would say "it's meant to be tongue in cheek" but is this really a good way to advance the dialog? But then, I suppose that isn't their aim.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

What to make of quotes by smart folks

I was reading an article on Vernier's (a maker of physics and chemistry laboratory instruments and software primarily for high school physics students) web site about an experiment in which their Labquest unit and some of their temperature probes were used in an project to determine the effect of roof color on the temperature of a dwelling.

In the article, I read thaEnergy Secretary and Nobel Prize laureate, Dr. Steven Chu had stated that "Giving roads and roofs a paler color would have the same effect of removing every car in the world off the roads for 11 years." My eyebrows went up for a couple of reasons. First, I have a hard time understanding what is even being claimed. Second, any interpretation I was able to make seemed implausible.

I used that quote as a Google search phrase and found quite a few places repeating the quote but the best I could do for an original source was in the Telegraph, a British newspaper. There, the amplified quotation was "If you look at all the buildings and if you make the roofs white and if you make the pavement more of a concrete type of colour rather than a black type of colour and if you do that uniformally (sic), that would be the equivalent of... reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years – just taking them off the road for 11 years,"

I'm sorry, but that is just a very confusing statement. Is the implication that making this change immediately and for all time would cumulatively equal the amount of carbon emissions due to the world's cars for 11 years? The confusion stems from having a time frame for the cars but not for the houses and buildings. This is, in my opinion, more unit ambiguity, and Dr. Chu has a Nobel Prize! Further, is that all the cars on the road today, or the cumulative emissions of those cars plus the cars to be added over the next 11 years?

I suspect that rough numbers will suffice to see what Dr. Chu might be talking about and whether it makes any sense. So just how much carbon is emitted by all the world's cars today? Here I find the following:
"The authors present the image of a coal train that stretches 55,000 miles, long enough to circle the globe twice, carrying 314 million metric tons (314*10^6 tonnes) of carbon - the amount of CO2 emitted by U.S. cars and trucks in the year 2004."
Argh. "314 million metric tons of carbon" and the amount of "CO2 emitted." CO2 is 72.7% oxygen and 27.3% carbon by weight. So are they referring to 314/.273 or 1150 million tonnes of CO2 containing 314 million tonnes of carbon or is it 314 million tonnes of CO2 containing 85.7 million tonnes of carbon? Sneaking in the back door by looking at annual gasoline consumption, assuming gasoline is more or less n-heptane which is 84% carbon by weight approximated the carbon to 316 million metric tons and that's closer than I deserve so I'm going with 314*10^6 tonnes of carbon from 1150*10^6 tonnes of CO2. The article cited states that the U.S. contributes 45% of the world's automotive CO2 emissions so the world's total is estimated at 2555*10^6 tonnes of CO2. This is for 2004, so we multiply by 11 to see what Dr. Chu was talking about. This yields 28.10*10^9 tonnes of carbon.

Now, what about roofs and pavements? This is a dramatically more difficult estimate and I'm going to rely on the scholars. Here is the best article I could find without paying. An abstract of an original paper (the earlier of the two cited in the article above) is at Springerlink and for $34 you can have the whole paper. I'll quote the abstract here:
Increasing urban albedo can reduce summertime temperatures, resulting in better air quality and savings from reduced air-conditioning costs. In addition, increasing urban albedo can result in less absorption of incoming solar radiation by the surface-troposphere system, countering to some extent the global scale effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Pavements and roofs typically constitute over 60% of urban surfaces (roof 20–25%, pavements about 40%). Using reflective materials, both roof and pavement albedos can be increased by about 0.25 and 0.15, respectively, resulting in a net albedo increase for urban areas of about 0.1. On a global basis, we estimate that increasing the world-wide albedos of urban roofs and paved surfaces will induce a negative radiative forcing on the earth equivalent to offsetting about 44 Gt of CO2 emissions. At ∼25/tonne of CO2, a 44 Gt CO2 emission offset from changing the albedo of roofs and paved surfaces is worth about 1,100 billion. Furthermore, many studies have demonstrated reductions of more than 20% in cooling costs for buildings whose rooftop albedo has been increased from 10–20% to about 60% (in the US, potential savings exceed $1 billion per year). Our estimated CO2 offsets from albedo modifications are dependent on assumptions used in this study, but nevertheless demonstrate remarkable global cooling potentials that may be obtained from cooler roofs and pavements.
Note that the abstract doesn't mention a time period over which the 44 Gt (gigatonne, or billion metric tons) offset occurs. The article linked above seems to clarify it as the total offset, and splits the offsets into 24 Gt for roofs and 20 Gt for pavements, along with the assumptions as to the increases in albedo necessary. And the abstract is very clear that they are discussing tonnes of CO2, not carbon, so we have to to take 27.3% of the 44 Gt for a total reduction of carbon of 12 Gt. This is less than half of the 28.1 Gt I found for worldwide automotive carbon emissions for 11 years. Still, it's a surprisingly large number, much more than I'd have estimated off the top of my head (like Mr. Spock Sherlock Holmes, I never guess).

Monday, October 04, 2010

Am I a Malthusian?

I was struck with another case of SIWOTI syndrome in a link I followed from Michael Tobis' Only In It For The Gold blog. He linked to a post called "Walking Back to Happiness" at the blog site Hot Topic from New Zealand. There, one Tom Bennion, who hosts a site called stopflying.org/, gave a very thorough exposition of the rationale behind his decision to stop travelling by air and his rebuttals of the counterarguments he's encountered when explaining his position to others.

In his brief autobiographical introduction he explained that he's a married, 46 year old lawyer (don't get me started, perhaps the legal profession is different in New Zealand) with three small children. He spends some bytes implying but not stating that many climate scientists who undoubtedly should know better exhibit hypocrisy by flying, especially for vacations.

Well, be that as it may, I commented that no single act (at least not one ordinarily carried out by a "typical" westerner) is as damaging to the environment in terms of carbon footprint and other environmental degradation as bringing a child into the world. So "pot-kettle-black" and all that. I was accused of being "another Malthusian." I did mention resources but my comment was meant to home in primarily to carbon footprint. Now I concede that having a child is more meaningful than flying to Copenhagen, even if it's for a conference on climate change. But it's still a decision to take an action much more likely to damage the Earth for future generations.

Or so I think. But I haven't run the numbers to get an estimate, so I'd best do so. Should it turn out that I'm incorrect, I'll apologize on the site. As usual, this will involve much estimating. I'll use estimates that make the best case that the child is likely to be less harmful, so I'll use a relatively high number of flights over very long distances and use New Zealand rather than U.S. primary energy consumption.

I'll start with a comparison of the lifetime primary energy use of a New Zealand resident which should be a  reasonable proxy for the carbon emissions consequent to supplying that energy. Starting with the Energy Information Agency website I find that New Zealand converted primary energy at a per capita rate of 211.2*10^6 btu/year in 2006 (a rate of a bit over 7000 watts as compared to about 11,000 in the U.S.). And at this post at the Litebucket site it's stated that New Zealand derived 71% of it's primary energy from fossil fuels in 2008. As an aside, the other 29% was derived from renewables, a very laudable figure. So, the average New Zealander converts about 0.71*211.2*10^6 or 150.0*10^6 btu/year of fossil fuel energy (regular readers know I hate saying "consumes energy"). Now, I'll assume that a child lives to be 70, so he or she will consume 70*150*10^6 btu or 10.5*10^9 btu in his or her lifetime.

Now let's look at flying. I'll assume that a heavy user flies a round trip of 3000 miles (6000 miles out and back) twice per month, so this heavy airline commuter logs 144,000 miles per year. Let's suppose he or she does this over a 40 year period and hence totals 5.76*10^6 miles. This sad person will be assumed to be on a plane that's 80% full. This site shows that the worst airline gets a trifle over 60 seat miles per gallon of jet fuel, I'll use that. The assumption of 80% full reduces this to 48 miles per gallon for the individual, and 1/48=.0208 gallons/mile. Multiplying this by 5.76*10^6 miles, we find that this heavy airline user will be responsible for the burning of 120,000 gallons of jet A fuel. Here we find that Jet A releases 123,608 btu/gallon so our traveler will convert (123,608 btu/gallon)*(120,000 gallons)=14.83*10^9 btu during his or her flying career. This is about 1.4 times the energy converted by the average New Zealander during his or her lifetime.

Now, it may be objected that there are many variables not considered (type of flying, increasing efficiency of the New Zealander lifestyle, and many, many more) but the two scenarios, child and extreme air traveler are of the same order of magnitude. The writer of the post in question has three children. If we consider that it's not unreasonable for a person to replace him or herself and his or her spouse, the writer has added one beyond that. So the one child beyond the replacement number is on the order of 2/3 as intensive an emitter of CO2 as what is by any reasonable judgement an extreme user of airline travel. Look for my tepid mea culpa at the site.